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The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

Americans Read Labels

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The last time I purchased a package of underwear, I checked where it was made. I was certain after reading the label, the materials used in the product were obtained in the U.S., but the garment was assembled in another country. 

This was okay with me, so I made my purchase. 

Then I went to the grocery section of the store. I reached for a package of steak, and the label read “Product of the U.S.A.” Was I safe in making the same assumption about the origin of this high-end product as I was about my lowly underwear?

I took this question to an assortment of my acquaintances: “What do you know about a package of meat if the label reads ‘Product of the U.S.A?’” 

The responses were all over the map. Some people thought the label suggested the animal had been born and raised in the U.S., but it might have been sent to a foreign country for slaughter and processing. 

Others thought the animal had spent its entire life here and was processed here. Some suggested this meant it was higher quality than other meats. Most were pretty sure it came from a Wyoming ranch. 

They were united only in the thought the beef was raised in the U.S. They did not believe me when I explained they were mistaken and had been duped. This label means nothing beyond the plastic being stretched over the package somewhere within the borders of the U.S.

As Americans, we tend to believe labels, and this is exactly why we need to institute a mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rule. 

The time has passed for allowing reluctant meat processors, hesitant big-ag groups and foreign trade agreements to prevent American consumers from knowing where their meat was born, raised, fed and processed. 

The time for forcing independent meat producers in the U.S. to compete with cheap, possibly inferior products produced in other countries is long gone.

Fortunately, a new campaign for reform has drawn the attention of some members of Congress. Sens. Barrasso and Lummis (both R-WY) have joined their colleagues from other mostly western states and have sponsored a bill, The American Beef Labeling Act, to clarify and require country of origin labeling for meat. 

They deserve our thanks for taking on this initiative. They will also require strong public comment in order to move this bill through our legislative bodies and see it through to becoming law.

Wyoming ranchers deal with incredible obstacles when raising animals to eventually become part of our diet including genetics, environmental conditions of their ranch, animal husbandry and veterinary practices, nutrition and more. 

Ranchers must then navigate a sales system stacked against them, selling on a market flooded with beef from foreign countries. And, finally, their product is sold in competition with beef gathered randomly from all over the globe. 

The product presented to the consumer was obtained by a grocery supplier based on the lowest wholesale price to the supermarket. Why on earth would a young person want to go into the beef production business?

In addition to burdens on the livestock producer, cost and health risks to the consumer also play into this topic. People who are able and willing to spend more of their available income on good products vote with their dollars. 

Those people will discriminate between carefully raised American beef and any inferior products which come from other countries. Beef raised in the U.S. might be their preference. This is a choice and will be open to them with the passage of this bill.

There are other consumers in our country who do not have the luxury to be picky about their food purchases. It is my contention those people also deserve to know the origin of the food they put on their tables. 

They, too, deserve good quality food and they should not be paying more for poorer quality meats. This bill will increase the availability of higher quality products to every consumer in the U.S. 

Please support the efforts of our senators to get this legislation passed. Purchase Wyoming-raised beef if you possibly can and please expect the U.S. to be more concerned about the origin of their steak than where my package of underwear was made.

Joyce Evans is a fourth-generation rancher originally from Carbon County, where her family ranch is located. Although retired, she maintains an active interest in cattle raising and ranching practices. She currently resides in Fort Laramie and serves on the board of directors for the Powder River Basin Resource Council.

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